Unicef South Africa will roll-out a pilot programme to improve nutrition for children in 50 under-resourced schools in Gauteng, after Woolworths committed R4 million over three years to the project in line with its aim to support innovative and scalable programmes.

The initiative aims to improve the capacity of about 100 volunteer food-handlers, local community members who prepare balanced school meals for children under safe and hygienic conditions.

Through the partnership with the Department of Basic Education, the programme will benefit around 50 000 learners in selected disadvantaged primary schools that participate in the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).

Learners in these schools will be taught about good hygiene practices, including the importance of handwashing with soap before eating. The NSNP currently feeds over 9 million learners a hot cooked meal daily.

READ MORE: It’s everyone’s responsibility to protect children, says Unicef #ChildProtectionWeek

“Unicef is playing a vital role in South Africa and throughout Africa to address nutrition and hygiene of those most in need. We welcome the opportunity to partner with them,” said Woolworths Head of Corporate Affairs Zinzi Mgolodela.

“Providing nutritious and safe food is at the heart of Woolworths’ food business, and it is also a strategic priority for us to partner with organisations like Unicef so that we contribute to the movement towards sustainable food security for all South Africans.  We are delighted to be funding a Unicef- and government-led programme that aims to improve children’s health and education through access to better-prepared school meals.”

Stunting or impaired growth remains prevalent amongst the poorest South African children. Stunting that is unresolved in early childhood affects a significant number of school-going children and can result in increased episodes of illness, poor cognitive function and poor educational attainment.

Schools are ideal environments to implement nutrition and health programmes as they can reach large numbers of children, repeatedly. The programme will improve the quality of the meals that children receive in schools.

READ MORE: Priyanka Chopra in SA for UNICEF gala

Unicef South Africa Chief of Education Wycliffe Otieno said good nutrition and hygiene are investments in the future of children and the country.

“Addressing malnutrition is crucial to enabling children’s right to survive, grow, develop and learn to their full potential. While this partnership will develop the training module for volunteer food-handlers and trial it in 50 schools, the materials will serve as a resource with potential to be rolled out to the 50 000 volunteer food- handlers across the country; it is this type of catalytic work with private sector partners that sets the stage for at-scale programme delivery by government across the country.”